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NONASSERTIVENESS TRAINING AND THE FEMALE STRESS SYNDROME: IT'S A GIRL!
Socialization begins at birth. If girls are generally less assertive than boys, then training must begin early. In fact, the sexual stereotypes believed by the parents of a female child obviously precede her birth.
Consider the following statistics. H. Barry, M. Bacon, and I. L. Child, studying 110 cultures, found that 82 percent of the people they polled expected females to be more nurturing than males; 87 percent expected females to be less achieving than males; and 85 percent expected females to be less self-reliant than males! Another research team had similar findings: D. Aberle and K. Naegele concluded from their studies that fathers expect daughters to be pretty, sweet, and fragile, whereas they expect their sons to be aggressive and athletic. Are these valid expectations or self-fulfilling prophecies?
It seems that the way parents see their children is consistent with what they expect to see. In a fascinating study by J. Rubin, F. Provenzano, and Z. Luria, fathers were asked to rate their newborn children's characteristics, with the following results:
Fathers of daughters rated their babies softer, finer featured, more awkward, less attentive, more delicate, and weaker than did fathers who rated sons.
Fathers of sons found them to be firmer, larger featured, better coordinated, more alert, stronger, and harder than did fathers who rated daughters.
The most interesting aspect of this was that the birth lengths, weights, and reflex times for all babies in the study were the same!
In another piece of research, J. Meyer and B. Sobieszek showed men videotapes of seventeen-month-old children. When the men were told they were looking at a boy, they were more likely to describe the child as active, alert, and aggressive. When they were told they were looking at a girl, they described the baby as cuddly, passive, and delicate.
From perceiving girls and boys differently according to stereotyped images, it is only a short step for parents to create different realities for each sex. Research has shown that
Most girls are treated more protectively than boys. This logically suggests to girls that they must need protection.
Most girls are complimented on their appearance before any other trait. People exclaim, "What a pretty girl!" but "What a big, strong boy!" This, of course, conveys to girls that their packaging is very important.
Most girls are handled with more vocalization than are boys. Michael Lewis found that mothers of twelve-week-old girls speak and respond more to the babbling of their babies than do mothers of sons. F. Rebelsky and C. Hanks found the same was true for fathers! Being verbal, therefore, "works" for girls.
When it comes to nonassertiveness training, women and men—mothers and fathers—seem to work in tandem, perhaps reflecting their own training.
As mentioned previously, in a cross-cultural study J. H. Block found that fathers emphasized assertion, aggression, achievement, and self-aggrandizement in their sons, while emphasizing control of aggression and assertion in their daughters.
Researchers R. Sears, E. Maccoby, and H. Levin found that mothers of kindergarten children tolerate more aggression toward both parents and peers in their sons than in their daughters.
Another team of researchers, Lisa A. Serbin and K. Daniel O'Leary, found the same was true with nursery school teachers.
Although it would be unlikely that some sex differences were not operating here, the influence of socialization on female behavior comes through loud and clear. Males may indeed have a higher activity level in general, and females may indeed have more verbal facility in general, and prenatal hormonal differences may indeed produce brain-hemisphere-dominance differences, as research suggests; but the direction these sex-related differences take is related to the Female Stress Syndrome.